The Fading Fear and The Spirit of St. Louis (III)
Connie W. Adams
The recent meetings in Memphis and St. Louis between fifteen men from conservative Christian Churches and that many from churches of Christ have been hailed as the dawning of a new day in relations between these formerly estranged peoples. Carl Ketcherside points to them as evidence of a "fading fear" in communications, but is impatient with the procedures. He thinks he is already ahead of where these men will be when they have completed their negotiations.
J. W. Roberts of Abilene Christian College who was present in St. Louis looks upon these developments as little short of epochal. In his interview with Reuel Lemmons (who was responsible for the meetings being held), Roberts said; "I have the feeling that we may be moving toward something significant like the 1832 get together in Lexington, Ky. when the Stone and Campbell people started meeting together."
Brother Lemmons said he had "limited optimism" about the meetings and added "We didn't get this way overnight, and we are not going to cure the division overnight. But every effort toward better understanding is a step in the right direction."
James DeForest Murch of the Christian Church, who gathered the participants from that quarter, expressed optimism as to the outcome of such efforts. He expressed the hope that other such meetings could be held and that men from both sides would be called upon to speak at gatherings of Significance. In the last article, I reported the reaction of Reuel Lemmons to questions put to him about the meetings, the questions being asked by Thomas H. Olbricht and J. W. Roberts. Now we shall consider the interview with Murch.
Second Time Around
This is not the first time that James DeForest Murch has been involved in efforts to bring
about unity between churches of Christ and Christian Churches. Back in 1938, and 1939 he and Claude M. Witty arranged for several meetings at which men from both sides spoke on a variety of subjects of concern to the two groups. Much was written about these meetings in the papers of the brethren. Those unity meetings were generally looked upon with disfavor by both sides and finally fizzled out. one of the last of these meetings was conducted at Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis in 1939. As I write this article, I am staying in the home of E. C. Koltenbah who was present at this meeting. His report of what took place accords with the report of W. L. Totty of Indianapolis who was also present. Witty selected men from churches of Christ and at that particular meeting, H. Leo Boles spoke on the causes of division and along the lines of what it would take to heal the division. It is reported that Boles "laid it on the line," identified who it was that brought in error and thus left the truth and pleaded for them to come back to the truth they had forsaken. His speech was not popular.
If the brethren participating in these present meetings would speak with the same candor and conviction as H. Leo Boles did, it is doubtful that those from the Christian Churches would want to continue such meetings. They have not changed their minds on instrumental music or missionary societies, as Murch himself indicated in the interview. They hold that these are in the realm of opinion and that we should not disturb them over it, though we choose not to use them.
It is evident that Murch has been evaluating with interest the shifts in attitudes and practices among some of the churches of Christ. He is wise enough to see that there is really not a great deal of difference between some Christian Churches and some churches of Christ. He commended Broadway in Lubbock a few years ago as a great, forward looking church and said he felt he had more in common with churches of Christ like
Broadway than with many in the Christian Church (then he referred to those now distinguished as "Disciples"). While brother Lemmons thought that the climate was more favorable for better communications because of the recent restructure fight in the
Christian Church which severed them completely from the ultra-liberal Disciples, it is very likely that Murch felt the climate was right for an entirely different reason. To appropriate a slogan or a recent political aspirant, "there isn't a dime's worth of difference." Many of the liberal churches of Christ have an instrument in their wedding chapels and/or fellowship halls with only a wall or a floor between them and the "sanctuary." They have their ball teams, area and state-wide youth rallies, camps, and institutions galore. Many of them are becoming more and more oriented to the social gospel in the true import of the term. The Christian Church has its choirs and our liberal brethren have their "choruses" which sometimes sing at worship periods, or immediately before or after. Pat Boone joins in services of denominational churches and sings with their instruments and Reuel Lemmons has defended him in the Firm Foundation. Murch and other observers in the Christian Churches are not blind to these facts. If there is now any more likelihood of unity it is not because the Christian Church has moved back nearer the truth, but simply that our liberal brethren have outrun the New Testament and have caught up with the "Digressives."
The Murch Interview
(1) Instrumental music. Murch said he did not think brethren from churches of Christ had changed their convictions on instrumental music but added:
"I do know that there has been a disposition among many of your ministers and educators to be more tolerant in your attitudes toward those of us who use the instrument in worship . . . In other words, there has been developing now for some time a new atmosphere in which true unity is beginning to manifest itself." (Emphasis mine, CWA)
In answer to the question "Do many of your people think we are more open to instrumental music?" he replied:
"I do not think your churches are more open to instrumental music, but we hopefully believe that you are more willing to listen to our reasons for its use."
(2) Barriers to fellowship. Murch said he did not think the instrument was the chief roadblock to fellowship.
"The chief issue is, Are we brethren in all matters pertaining to the fundamentals of the Christian faith? If we are, we ought to act like it, and make allowance for opinions in secondary matters, dealing with them in the spirit of Christ." (Emphasis mine, CWA)
"Most of our brethren view instrumental music as a matter of opinion."
So, they are persuaded still that the instrument is a matter of opinion. He does not think churches of Christ are ready to accept the instrument but rejoices that some "ministers and educators" are "more tolerant" toward those who use it. If brethren believe that instrumental music is a transgression of divine law and an element of apostasy, then on what basis can they be more tolerant toward it and any closer to fellowship with those who use it? What evidence has Murch seen to convince him that these "ministers and educators" are more tolerant? There must have been some compromise somewhere for him to be so persuaded. He sees a "new atmosphere" that he says has been "developing." Really then, who has changed? They have been arguing for a hundred years that the instrument is a matter of opinion. It is our liberal brethren who have changed their attitudes and brought on a "new atmosphere." Murch can see it and so can others outside the church who observe what is taking place.
(3) "Freedom of association." Roberts suggested that the meetings turned up different, approaches to other matters. Murch responded:
"There are some differences with respect to 'freedom of association' beyond local congregations in the fields of education, benevolence, missions, ministerial conferences, conventions, etc. However, I did not detect any difference of a serious nature. In these matters there seemed to be complete tolerance." (Emphasis mine, CWA)
Yes, there are some differences of approach, but Murch does not think they are serious, and thought there was complete tolerance in these matters. There had to be some reason why he reached that con-elusion. Here again is a shifting attitude. These brethren gathered up by Reuel Lemmons could not afford to say too much about centralized mission and benevolent operations with their amalgamations in the sponsoring churches. There is Highland in. Abilene carrying on an operation through which over 3,000 congregations are working. They have their national workshops for key workers and district representatives, some of whom are over several states, and they look "for all the world" like conventions. Our brethren call such gatherings "workshops" and the Christian Churches call them "conventions," but they can not see much difference. Yes, I can see how Murch might decide that differences in approach are "not serious" and that there was "complete tolerance."
Murch reported that Norvel Young has indicated there would be another meeting in Southern California this spring and expressed hope that other such meetings would be conducted. Frank Pack suggested some areas in which the two groups could cooperate and Murch was certain that such cooperation would be forthcoming. So, we may look for other such meetings and can expect cooperative efforts.
It appears that the ecumenical winds have overtaken the liberal churches, at least limited velocity. Unity is desirable and division is condemned in the scriptures. But real unity such as that enjoined in Eph. 4:1-i6 must begin with a wholesome respect for the authority of the word of God and repulsion for any attitude which leads men beyond what it contains. Union formed because those who once defended the truth and opposed error have become more tolerant of that which once they opposed indicates a lessening respect for the authority of Christ expressed in the New Testament. The Christian Church people left the truth when they brought in their innovations. They will find it right where they left it. All of us should be willing to study and debate (whether formally or informally) the issues that divide us and to do so in a becoming spirit. It appears to this writer that the present unity effort is predicated upon a changed attitude, if not a compromising spirit, on the part of our more liberal brethren which have been evident to Murch and other observers for a long time.
What are the consequences of the "spirit of St. Louis" becomes a wide-spread movement among the churches? It will only take a few years of compromise and silence on the musical instrument in worship to breed a generation totally ignorant of the sin involved and thus ready to embrace the practice. Already, there are many in the churches who do not know the difference in an aid and an addition. Many see no harm in the instrument. Our failure to use it is with them a quaint "church of Christ" tradition which they honor out of respect for their parents.
The "new atmosphere'' which Murch has been watching was not found among the conservative brethren who are often dubbed "antis." We are no more tolerant of the instrument than we were years ago. We still believe it is used without divine authority and that who do so stand condemned before God. We can have no fellowship with it. Any division existing over it must be charged to those who brought it in, forcing brethren to violate their consciences and worship with it, or else leave and start over. We are just as opposed to missionary societies, conventions, and other organizations being attached to the churches for support. The brethren with whom Reuel Lemmous is associated have moved away from these attitudes. We believe the recent meetings and the attitudes expressed herald only the speed with which some brethren are traveling toward total denominationalism.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV; 29, pp. 7-9
May 28, 1970